The third and final season of Broadchurch, BBC America's show about a series of crimes in a normally tranquil British seaside town, may be its strongest yet. That's due in no small part to the fact that the series ends its run without so much as hinting at the fact that its two lead characters have any sort of romantic connection.
It's become almost inevitable that television shows featuring a male-female detective partnership (or really, any professional partnership) will eventually tumble into "will-they-or-won't-they" romantic territory. Whether the question is at the forefront of the series (Bones) or in the background (The X-Files), eventually the crimes or cases will inevitably be overshadowed by wishful shipping, and a happy ending for the protagonists becomes more important than solving the mystery in question.
Broadchurch has mercifully managed to avoid all that, and is a stronger series as a result. The central partnership in question, between prickly Det. Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and his much more amiable partner, Det. Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), never strays into the murky waters of sending sparks flying between the two leads. In the third season, with Hardy and Miller having known each other for several years at this point, they've reached a comfort level with each other that wasn't seen in the early days of their relationship. But it's more like adult siblings who are testing the idea of becoming friends than it is any sort of attraction to one another.
It would be easy — almost too easy — for the writers to test a romance between Hardy and Miller, both damaged souls who have dealt with their share of personal hardships. In lazier hands, after Miller discovers that her husband (Season 1 spoiler alert) Joe was a pedophile who murdered her best friend's son, it might be tempting to send her rushing to Hardy for solace. But mercifully, she never entertains the thought. Likewise, Hardy, who consistently questions his abilities as a father, might understandably turn to Miller to provide a maternal influence for his teenage daughter. But he never does. Even when Miller offers Hardy some child-rearing advice, it's again coming from a place of older sisterly influence, not someone who's angling to become a stepparent. By avoiding such clichés, Broadchurch allows Hardy and Miller to become independently realized characters on their own, without reducing them to their sexualities.
In the third season, which premiered June 28 on BBC America (and has already aired in its entirety in the UK), Miller and Hardy try to solve the mystery of who raped a woman at her best friend's 50th birthday party. Though the series has expanded itself beyond the original case of who killed young Danny Lattimer, the central figures from that case return in ways that don't feel forced, and serve as a constant reminder of how close-knit the community is. Which, in turn, makes it all the more terrifying and unthinkable when one of their own is assaulted.
But the characters who really ground the show (in addition to newcomer Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays the assault victim) are Miller and Hardy. And how refreshing it is to watch them pore over the evidence, navigate the twists and turns of the case as new information comes to light, without having to wonder what might happen if they're both stuck in the office working late one night. They may bicker like an old married couple — and certainly that's part of their, and the show's, charm — but there's no danger of them actually turning into one.
The same discipline that prevented the creators of Broadchurch from putting a romantic spin on a mystery series also compelled them to send the show out on a high note. Miller and Hardy make their final exits with viewers wanting to see more of them, not relieved that they're finally being put to rest after overstaying their welcome. It also helps that the final exchange between the two is simply perfect.
There are a number of cues that showrunners could take from the Broadchurch model, across aspects from character development to cinematography. But the biggest risk the creators of Broadchurch took was keeping their leads at a healthy distance from one another; and it's that decision that's reaped the greatest rewards.
Broadchurch airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on BBC America.